I've been tired in my lifetime. As a graduate student, I think I live my life on the knife's edge of exhaustion; but I don't think I've ever been as exhausted in mind, body, and spirit as I am right at this moment. I think I'm even more tired than the time I stayed up for thirty-six hours straight studying for my Econ final, then partied the whole weekend in celebration when I was finished. Of course, pulling an A- helped my spirits considerably.
I know I experienced tiredness of mind when Professor Jordanson refused to take me on his expedition to New Guinea. He had been quite clear in his opinions that sixteen was way too young to be traveling around the world. Hell, I should have told the old geezer I'd been traveling around the world since I was four. Oh wait, I did. He still didn't change his mind though. I was tired being trapped between worlds, not an adult, yet not really a kid anymore either. I had seriously considered dropping out of college. Thank God for Eli. I don't know what I would've done if he hadn't have believed in a teenager who couldn't stand still or shut up for more than five minutes at a time.
Hell, even my soul is tired. I haven't felt like this since the warehouse blew up, leaving Larry and me homeless. I almost gave up on the whole sentinel project when Larry trashed Jim's apartment -- too tired to care anymore. I don't know what would have happened if we hadn't been focusing so hard on trying to clear Earl Gaines and protecting Ms. LaCroix.
But nothing, absolutely nothing, could have prepared me for the exhaustion ravaging my body at this precise moment. In the last forty-eight hours, I've been involved in a prison transfer which resulted in a massive shoot-out and the kidnapping of one of my best friends; I've been rained on until every cell of my body was cold and damp; I've been shot at more in the last two days than the whole time I've been partnered with Jim; I made a Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid leap with Jim into a freezing river; I've been knocked unconscious; raced through the woods in an attempt to escape a madman; actually shot in the leg, (well, you figure with the number of bullets being slung around -- statistically speaking -- one of them was bound to find their target); smoked out of an abandoned mining shaft; faced certain death down the barrel of an automatic rifle; and airlifted to hospital no bigger than the University's Student Union Cafeteria.
Once, several months ago, when my endorphins had been spiking, I actually had the audacity to tell Jim I understood why he seemed to enjoy making life and death choices -- I speculated it had to be for the adrenaline rush. I even admitted to Jim during the case where Incacha and Janet died that the reason I hadn't finished my dissertation, even though I have more than enough material, was because I didn't think I could go back to the merry-go-round after having spent so much time on the roller coaster. Looking back on those conversations, I wondered why Jim puts up with me.
At the moment, I'm simply sitting on the edge of the bed waiting for the doctor to sign my release papers. The doctor, no different from Cascade's doctors, is definitely not happy about releasing me so soon, but Jim and Simon need to get back home. They can't afford too much time away from the department. And quite frankly, despite Simon's assurances that the department will pick up my medical expenses, I can't afford any more unnecessary unreimbursed medical costs.
I try finding my center by breathing deeply, but it's not helping. There's no doubt in my mind this roller coaster ride is nearing an end. Since riding with Jim, I've been at ground zero of a bombing on a major highway overpass, been taken hostage by militia soldiers who took over the entire police station, been kidnapped by a serial killer, threatened by an rogue CIA agent, jumped out of an airplane over a Peruvian jungle, almost blown out of existence on an oil rig, hunted by an international assassin, gotten my mother involved in an undercover sting operation, been kidnapped by drug lords, nearly killed by an overdose of golden, and shot up the police garage while higher than a kite. While an argument can be made for each incident, I've got to wonder if this is going to be the straw which finally breaks the camel's, or in this case the Chief of Police's, back and he decides he has no choice but to revoke my ride-along status.
Yes, academic life would seem like a merry-go-round after being with Jim for almost two years, but maybe it's time to move on. I've lost the first woman I truly loved, not once, but twice. I've seen more dead bodies than any doctoral candidate has any business seeing, unless he's going into medicine or forensic science, and I've seen enough of man's inhumanity to man to make me go screaming into the night. I know more about the real world than I ever wanted to know. In some ways, I wish I still retained the innocence of simply going to class, hanging out with my friends and trying to score.
As an anthropology major, I'm supposed to be an observer of human nature. As a ride along, I'm supposed to observe police procedure. So when did I become an active participant? All I was supposed to do was observe Jim using his senses, record the data and finish my dissertation -- not take over the man's life. And I have, taken over his life, that is. I not only monitor what Jim put into his stomach, but analyze everything he brings into his home. I tell him which soaps to use, which fabric softeners, cleaning supplies, shampoos, dishwashing soap, candles and the like.
While Jim occasionally loses his temper with me, I can't help but believe he's one of the most patient people on the planet. Who else would put up with my constant interference for nearly two years? And now, he's going to be saddled, once again, with helping me through another physical recovery. I don't doubt for a second that Jim's going to go into some sort of mother-hen overdrive, blaming himself for what happened. I can't even grouse about the general unfairness of the universe because Jim asked me to go back to town in a squad car. But did I listen? Oh no.
Have I done one thing to justify my presence on this excursion? Did I pull Jim out of a zone even once? Did I come up with an inventive way for Jim to use his senses? No, of course not. In fact, Jim had to practically drag me everywhere. I actually slowed him down in his search for Simon; and our rescue was delayed because Simon and Jim wouldn't trek out of the woods without me.
"This hasn't exactly been one of your crowning moments, Sandburg."
"Talking to yourself again, Darwin?" Jim teases, peering around the door like he's making sure I'm decent.
I try to smile, but I'm simply too tired to make it convincing. "And you thought I only talked your ear off."
"Damn. There's never a tape recorder around when you need one." Jim chuckles as he slips the rest of the way into the room. "Simon's with Dr. Wilson now, making sure all your paperwork's in order. You about ready to blow this popsicle stand?"
"Yes. I'm in desperate need of a home cooked meal. You'd think after a while hospital food would grow on you, but it never does."
"Thank God." He chuckles again. "Hey, we can't get out of here until you put your shoes on."
I feel myself blush as I look stupidly at my offending appendages. I decide to go for distraction. "How're we getting home anyway?"
"The department's springing for a rental."
"God, say it isn't a Geo Metro."
"No, I think Simon's got a Lincoln Towncar."
"Bless that man. I always knew there was a good reason why he was the boss. Say, why don't you go get the car warmed up and I'll be out in a few minutes," I say, waving my hand toward the door.
With a laugh, Jim obediently turns to leave but stops as his hand reaches the door handle. He turns, frowning slightly. "I'm sorry, buddy. What was I thinking?" he asks, shaking his head and kneeling beside the hospital bed to pick up my hiking boots. "These things sure have seen better days."
I reach out to take the boots, but Jim ignores me and loosens the threading and the tongue on the first boot. I can feel myself blushing, like a five-year old who doesn't know how to tie his shoes yet. "You mean I shouldn't expect much information in trade if Sneaks gets a good look at them?" I try for jovial.
"Well, as far as snitches go, he does have pretty discriminating tastes." Jim doesn't look up as he gently slips the boot onto my good leg. "Can you imagine the ridicule he'd go through if he accepted these rags?" With small movements which don't jar my leg at all, he ties the shoe with a double knot. Then reaching for the other boot, he loosens the laces and gently adjusts my sock.
"I think you've just blown all my carefully preserved notions about snitches, man," I say between gritted teeth, anticipating the pain; however, it never comes. I watch silently while he tightens the laces enough to keep the boot on my foot, but loose enough not to cause any discomfort.
"Well, it had to happen sooner or later and better you hear it from me than from the other boys and girls in the bullpen." He grins at me as he completes his task, and stands up. "Simon will be here any moment. I'll go ahead and pull the car around."
"You just want to be the one to drive back to the city," I counter.
"There's that too," he says with an unrepentant grin as he turns to leave. Again, his hand gets to the doorknob and again he stops and turns back toward me. "You know, I'm glad you were with me yesterday."
I'm completely taken aback by this statement. "I don't see why. I didn't help you out much."
"You helped me more than you'll ever know," he says quietly, almost hesitantly, then bolts from the room.
I simply stare at the closed door for a moment. I've always thought of myself as independent, not needing anyone, and especially not needing praise. But I gotta admit... that was really nice. Maybe, he really does need me. Maybe, I am helping him out instead of annoying him. Wouldn't that be a great thought?
I fumble through the sheets and find the cane Jim bought me at the local drug store. Simon strides through the door as I begin to scootch toward the edge of the bed.
"Here, let me help you down," he says quietly, rushing forward. You'd think for a big guy he wouldn't know his own strength, but his hands gently support me until I get my weight distributed correctly so I won't fall when he lets go. "You know how you and Jim are always complaining about being forced to take a wheelchair out of the hospital?" Simon asks hesitantly.
"Well, would you believe today is your lucky day? It turns out there are only four wheelchairs in this darn place and all four of them are in use at the moment. So what do you think about walking out of here on your own recognizance?"
"I'm down with that." I grin for his sake, trying to hold back a bone-weary sigh. Of course, the one time I wouldn't have complained about feeling like an invalid would be the one time I don't have the option.
Putting on a brave face, I start toward the door. Simon rushes around me and opens it before I get there.
Maybe I should have practiced a little more with the cane. Who would've thought that keeping your weight off a bad leg would be so hard? I almost laugh out loud when a man in his seventies passes us, trailing an IV pole.
"Geez, Sandburg, where's your pride?" Simon teases as we watch the elderly gentleman turn a corner.
I laugh, trying to keep him from noticing the pain I'm sure is etched all over my face. "I... just didn't want to... hurt his ego. I... understand it gets rather... fragile... the older you get."
"Was that an age crack?" Simon's voice always raises when he tries to pretend he's indignant about something.
I give him my most innocent puppy-dog look. "Age crack?" Yeah, try kicking me now, man.
"Uh huh," Simon mutters darkly.
"How are your ribs?" I ask, trying to keep my mind off my leg.
"Oh, they're bruised, but nothing's broken. Of course, I won't be playing any tackle football in the near future."
I chuckle, but I know I don't ever want to see Simon opposite me in a game of touch football, let alone tackle, injured or not. "I guess your pro days are over."
"If that's another age crack, Sandburg..."
I try not to laugh, because it throws off my gait, but after a moment, I can't help it and I have to stop and lean against the wall. "I... I... need to take a moment to catch my breath."
"Sandburg, at the rate we're going we should be getting into Cascade sometime tomorrow morning."
"You obviously don't ride a lot with Jim."
"What do you mean... oh no... Ellison is NOT driving back! Is that where he is? Damn it all," Simon starts toward the parking lot then turns back to me. "Lift your arms."
"I beg your pardon?"
"I said 'Lift your arms.' There's no way I'm letting Ellison drive back to town. I don't want anymore bruises than I already have and I want the vehicle to get there in one piece, thank you very much."
"How is lifting my arms going to prevent Jim from driving?"
Simon sighs in exasperation. "Just do it."
So I do. I try not to squeak when he lifts me into his arms. "Will you watch that thing?" he growls, indicating my cane with a nod of his head. "Someone's gonna lose an eye if you aren't careful."
"That's such a dad thing to say."
"Well, I am a dad." Simon snorts in amusement as we, or should I say he, walks down the hall.
"Darryl's such a lucky kid," I say wistfully, then blush, embarrassed that I actually spoke the words aloud.
Simon hesitates for a moment, then says quietly, "I would be an extremely proud father if I had a son as courageous as you are, Blair. Very proud, indeed."
All I can do is nod as my throat tightens. What I would've given to have had a dad who could have carried me home after falling out of Mrs. Danbush's tree, instead of having to walk home and wait for mom to get off work.
"Thanks," I finally manage.
"No, thank you, son. Thank you." Then we're outside and he's booming over my head, "Ellison get your ass out of the driver's seat."
"Don't you 'but, sir' me. If you aren't out of that seat in five seconds, you'll be riding home in the trunk."
Jim laughs, but jumps out and runs around the car to open the door for us. "But I'm the only one without injuries, sir."
Simon bends over and sets me gently on the seat, rolls his eyes then winks at me before he stands. "The only one without physical injuries."
"I hope you're not implying, sir..." Jim protests, bending into the car to make sure I'm secured, then winks at me before he shuts the door.
"I'm not implying anything, Ellison. I'm just stating the facts."
As they bicker back and forth, I lean back into the seat and smile. Yeah, now I remember why I stick around. It's not only about friendship, it's about family.
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